Real Estate and Technology

Digital tech agency expands downtown

Universal Mind sets up shop in the historic Ledyard Building.

May 27, 2016
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Universal Mind
The historical significance of downtown’s Ledyard Building was one of the factors that prompted Universal Mind’s move. Courtesy Universal Mind

Universal Mind now has a historic building to call home.

The Grand Rapids-based digital tech agency had a house-warming party May 18 to celebrate its move into the historic Ledyard Building, 125 Ottawa Ave. NW, in downtown.

Universal Mind previously was housed in a 2,506-square-foot space at 38 W. Fulton St. In the Ledyard Building, it has almost 4,000 square feet and is one of many tenants. The new space, with its central location and historical prominence, was a no-brainer for the Universal Mind team, said Brett Cortese, president and CEO.

“As the city of Grand Rapids continues to evolve and grow, so does our organization,” he said. “As Universal Mind has been in the Grand Rapids area for years, having the opportunity to move into the Ledyard Building — a storied Grand Rapids landmark — perfectly reflects and symbolizes our long-standing involvement with and commitment to the Grand Rapids community.”

William Ledyard constructed the Ledyard Building in 1874. The building, which is considered the second-oldest building in the city, appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Over the years, we've focused quite heavily on understanding how our teams work. We've always tried to create spaces that were optimized for a workforce that needs collaborative areas for team members and clients, quiet heads-down areas for concentrated work and conference calls, and areas that are more relaxed and casual. In the Ledyard Building we were able to easily configure our space for all of these distinct work needs,” Cortese said.

“The historical importance of this building cannot be understated: It has survived many incarnations and has continuously evolved as the community has. This aspect closely reflects the transitional growth of Universal Mind in the area. Being a major forerunner in the digital space since nearly the inception of the industry — an industry landmark if you will, a move into the continuously evolving Ledyard was a perfect fit,” he said.

The space did need some renovation before Universal Mind moved in, and CWD Real Estate Investment helped with that process, said Erik Loehfelm, chief experience officer with Universal Mind.

“For instance, the space has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, but we wanted to have some private areas for the staff without losing any of the great views. The end result is we now have an entire wall of glass that has three separate meeting areas we call ‘phone booths,’” Loehfelm said.

“We were very conscience about not losing the great view out of these windows, so we kept the glass clear so the space could still feel open to these great downtown views. CWD did this build-out at their expense, which shows their level of commitment to supporting local companies and their growth. We did put some wood flooring in, as well as created a fantastic wall-to-wall bookshelf.”

Universal Mind wants to use the space as a base to branch off and become more social, with more community events focused on design, technology and education. Universal Mind also is planning to host more meetings with Kent ISD students and will work closely with Ferris State University's design program in holding a weekly lecture series at the studio this fall.

The new space also will allow Universal Mind to increase its staff.

“We are growing and hope to add new team members as needed. Part of Universal Mind's goal in Grand Rapids is to support the city by keeping great talent here,” Loehfelm said.

“Everyone thinks they have to move to the West Coast, but we've tried to hire the best talent here, locally, in order to keep growing the foundation of a world-class creative community. From full-time to contract workers, we're always trying to see who will be the next fit for us in Grand Rapids.”

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